Cellulitis

This infection of the deep layers of the skin and surrounding tissues results in a painful, red, swollen area, nausea, fever and generally feeling off colour.

Cellulitis is a less well known skin condition which affects men and women, young and old but there has been an increase in the number of cases which may be due to stronger forms of bacteria or an increase in risk factors, e.g. obesity.

There are certain groups who are more at risk of developing this condition. They include diabetes sufferers, drug addicts, people suffering from lymphoedema and anyone with a compromised immune system. This includes people who have undergone treatment for cancer or are suffering with HIV or full blown AIDS.

You are also at risk if you have poor circulation, are overweight or obese or have suffered from cellulitis before.

Causes of cellulitis

Streptococcus A bacteria are the main cause of this condition. If the skin becomes damaged, for example a cut or burn then this enables bacteria to invade and attack the affected area.

Cuts, grazes, burns, animal bites, skin ulcers and other skin conditions such as atopic eczema are the likely suspects.

But cellulitis also develops if a wound in the skin such as a cut or graze is exposed to water which has been infected with bacteria.

These bacteria spread to the tissues and other parts of the skin which results in a red, swollen and painful area of the skin.

Symptoms of cellulitis

The legs are the first area to show signs of this disease. The skin on them becomes red, tender and inflamed and generates a great deal of heat. Blisters may also form on the surface of your skin.

This causes additional symptoms which include:

  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Feeling ‘under the weather’

Potentially dangerous symptoms

There is a risk of this spreading to your bloodstream which is dangerous and requires urgent medical attention. Do this if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Rapid breathing and/or heartrate
  • High temperature – over 100F (or 38C)
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion

Visit your nearest accident and emergency (A & E) department as soon as possible.

It is a good idea to do this if you have a weak immune system and develop cellulitis as you are at greater risk of complications.

Diagnosing cellulitis

Your GP will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and the affected areas of your skin. This is a distinctive looking condition which presents with symptoms that are very similar to other diseases such as eczema. This is something he or she will want to rule out.

If your cellulitis is caused by an open wound such as a cut then your GP may take a small sample from this to determine the cause of the infection.

Severe cases are referred to hospital for further investigation and treatment.

Treatment for cellulitis

Mild cases of cellulitis can be treated at home. Antibiotics are the preferred treatment and you will be prescribed flucloxacillin or erythromycin instead. These cause a reaction in that the affected area of skin will become redder but this soon fades.

But contact your GP if your symptoms worsen after taking antibiotics or include vomiting and a high temperature.

Over the counter medication such as paracetamol will help to ease any pain.